NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps is now poised to be the first Black woman to be a crew member of the International Space Station (ISS).

On Tuesday, August 25, Epps was assigned to the NASA Boeing Starliner-1. The Black American aerospace engineer and astronaut will join the space administration's first operational crewed flight for Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, in a mission to the ISS.

NASA Astronaut Jeanette J. Epps
(Photo : NASA/JSC/Robert Markowitz via Wikimedia Commons)

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Another Great Leap For Mankind

The Boeing Starliner-1 mission will be the first for Jeanette Epps. She first earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Le Moyne College, in her hometown of Syracuse, New York. She then completed her master's degree in science and her doctorate in aerospace engineering, both from the University of Maryland.

While she was pursuing her master's and doctorate, Epps received a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project (GSRP) Fellowship grant, publishing several academic papers on the way. After her doctorate, she started working in a research lab with the Ford Motor Company for more than two years before moving to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where she was a technical intelligence officer for seven years.

In 2009, she was selected as a member of that year's astronaut class. In January 2017, NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps was assigned to be a part of Expeditions 56 and 57. She was set to fly into Earth's orbit aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. This was supposed to be the first long-duration ISS mission, including an African-American astronaut.

However, on January 16, 2018, NASA announced that Jeanette Epps would be reassigned to future missions, being replaced by her backup Serena M. Auñon-Chancellor. The reason for the reassignment was never officially explained.

Epps's current assignment marks a big leap for inclusivity. There have been some Black Americans who have traveled to and from space, with a former fighter pilot and astronaut Guion Bluford being the first as a crew member of the 1983 Challenger. However, there has been no Black American assigned to live and work in space for more extended periods. The International Space Station has already seen 240 individuals across 395 spaceflights, since 2000.

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NASA Boeing Starliner-1

Jeanette Epps will be joining NASA astronauts, Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada. Williams formerly held the record for doing the most spacewalks by a woman, with seven walks, as well as the most time in spacewalk for a woman with 50 hours and 40 minutes. On the other hand, Josh Aaron Cassada was a former test pilot with more than 3,500 hours piloting 40 aircraft and serving in 23 combat missions.


The upcoming Boeing Starliner-1 will be the fourth Starliner mission and the first to have a human crew onboard. The mission is only the fourth US spaceflight with a female commander, Sunita Williams, the first being STS-93 back in 1999. This mission will also reuse the Starliner spacecraft first flown in an uncrewed Orbital Test Flight Mission last December 2019. Commander Williams announced that the name of the spacecraft would be "Calypso."